I’d been talking with A-bomb for months about going on a bike camping trip, so the “Lake Wabamun Bike Attack” was highly anticipated. After meeting at MEC and loading up on Clif Bars and chamois cream, four intrepid adventurers, dressed mainly in white, hit the highway in 30+ degree weather with the goal of frolicking on the shores of the second largest lake in Alberta.
The first stop we had planned was the legendary vegan restaurant in Stony Plain. Twice before I have tried to eat there, and both times it didn’t work out, so I was sure third time would be the charm. The promise of healthy & varied vegan nosh kept us motivated as we rode through the outer suburbs, stomachs becoming increasingly demanding. When we got there, all was quiet. There was a small sign in the door that basically said they were out of business. Some internet snooping informed us that this had only happened in the last few weeks, and there were a steady stream of disappointed customers coming to the door who hadn’t heard the news either.
I left a note on the door expressing the extreme disappointment of riding for more than two hours to get there, but that was only half of it, because now I was in the situation I really wanted to avoid, finding a nourishing vegan meal in a small town restaurant. The place we ended up eating (ironically) used to be a garage/service station, and I had (wait for it) onion rings and fries, aka the small town vegan special. I hit a grocery store before we hit the road again to try to round out my fuel.
Instead of following Highway 16A all the way to the Yellowhead, we turned down Parkland drive, which proved to be one of the loveliest country roads I’ve ever cycled. No cars, gently rolling hills, lots of trees & scenery, this is what bike touring is all about.
Too bad that lovely road had a few surprises in store for me. After a rest stop at a country school, I was fiddling with my panniers because I was having some heel strike issues. We were not far on our way when a large dip in the road caused one pannier to bounce into the spokes of my back wheel, taking out three of them. This is the part where I turn into a cartoon with a cloud of expletive punctuation above my head. After letting off steam, I started unthreading the spokes from the wheel and figuring out what to do next. Disengaging the back brakes was enough to prevent most rubbing on the now warped rim, and my front brakes were good. Perhaps I could move a spoke from another part of the wheel to help balance it a bit more when we got to camp. Because I was traveling with a couple of first time bicycle tourists, I brought way more tools than I thought I’d possibly need, including spoke wrenches, so it was doable (thankfully, they were non-drive side spokes – I wasn’t so overly prepared to have a Regina freewheel remover). I also remembered the time my ex-companion rolled into Vancouver with 8 broken spokes, having travelled with more weight and farther than I was from home. As long as my wheels kept rolling, so did I, and I let my fellow travelers know that I’d be taking it easier (they were probably happy to hear that) but I was still good to go.
I formulated a plan for when we made camp. I had taken great care to pack some vegan marshmallows, and that night we’d roast them on the broken spokes.
Not long after that, I noticed some wasps flying behind A-bomb, like they were following her. A couple minutes later, a massive shocking pain sent me into screaming fits. A wasp had flown up my skirt and stung me. Having had an allergic reaction before, I was extremely worried about what could happen. Luckily, I’d packed some antihistamines and ibuprofen, which I took before the swelling started. It wasn’t long before I was riding again, wearing my brave face.
When we got to Wabamun, I couldn’t jump into the lake fast enough, but we decided to set up camp first. The check in lady was confused. What was our vehicle’s license plate number? “Umm, we’re on bikes.” Well, what were the bikes’ license plate numbers? “Bikes, you know, bicycles, we don’t have one.” the plate number on our permit ended up reading ABC 123.
When we got to our reserved spot, there were three pickup trucks parked in it. Like, seriously? The owners of said trucks in the neighboring site were rather incredulous that a group of cyclists wanted to displace them, luckily a park ranger just happened to drive by at that exact moment, and the pickups scattered like roaches in the light.
We settled in, unloaded the bikes and had a snack, then finally started to make our way down to the beach. Going down the first hill, I heard a crash and the sound of metal skidding over asphalt from behind me, then saw Neal’s saddle sliding down the hill in front of me. The bolt that holds the saddle to the seat post had sheared in two. Unlike my wheel, this was something that couldn’t be limped, and I started to really worry about how Neal was going to ride. Brendan suggested we try to find the park maintenance folks as they might have a bolt that would work. At the camp office, they told us we could try to track down the maintenance crew tomorrow, and also that there was a hardware store in town. With two possible solutions to be investigated the next day, it was time to get down to beach!
By the time we got to the beach, the sun was orange and low in the sky, and most people were going home. It was still super hot, though, and lake was the perfect remedy.
That night, I roasted those vegan marshmallows on the campfire with spokes like I promised myself I would and unweighted the day’s stressors. The company around the fire was lovely, and despite all the difficulties, I was feeling pretty good about where I was.
The next morning, I decided to leave my wheel as is because it had full tire pressure and would probably lose less momentum with the brake rub and wobble than if I disassembled the wheel and rearranged the spokes then was only able to get up to 50 or 60psi with my frame pump. And there’d be no guarantee the wheel would be true enough that i could reengage the brakes.
Meanwhile, A-bomb and Brendan biked into town to try to find a replacement bolt for Neal’s seat. I was reticent about not going, but it was a good thing I didn’t as the path to town included some steep rough single track -no place for crippled Mercier. At the hardware tore, they had almost given up and were working on plan B until another employee said “oh, I bet that’s a metric bolt. They’re on the other side of the store.” In the entire Home Hardware, they found a single bolt that fit.
We packed up camp and prepared for a slow ride home, between my fucked wheel and Neal’s too low saddle. It was also at about this time that Brenden discovered his keys were missing. WTF?
As the temperature once again reached more than 30 degrees, we stopped at the now overcrowded beach again before getting back on the road.
We retraced our route in the afternoon heat, hoping to find Brendan’s keys. With every stop, our bike breeze also stopped, and the heat was starting to take a toll on us so we had a longish break in the shadow of an overpass. By the time we crossed city limits, it was late enough that the heat was finally starting to break. We weren’t home free, though, and were reminded of this by the cherry on top of our day – Brendan got a flat.
This is possibly the longest post I’ve ever done (sorry about that), and it does seem to read like a series of unlikely misadventures crammed into a 36 hour period. The thing is, I don’t remember it as a near disaster, but as a fun adventure that challenged everyone involved, and feel accomplished for having got through it. We don’t remind ourselves how much we are capable of enough. Trial by bike tour proves you’re a lot less limited than you thought. (And that when life gives you broken spokes, roast vegan marshmallows on them!)